The members of the “Zuiho Daiko (drums)” group, based in Nagasaki Prefecture in Japan, are professional drummers who happen to have intellectual disabilities. They belong to an advanced welfare organization that was one of the first to abolish the more typical large facilities that had formerly housed and sheltered persons with intellectual disabilities. Now, the group’s members live in small group homes or with their own families, which are established in the local community.
The film’s narration begins with the following description of the institutional setting in which the group’s members had been housed previously:
“It was supposed to be an ideal place to live. A world under a totally new system. No street noise comes through to its overprotective garden. The flowers bloom and leaves are bright green but life here has no color, no fragrance, only boredom. ‘Do whatever you like!’ they say, but I can’t see anyone, go anywhere. It's just endless days of loneliness.”
As professional Japanese drum players, their work involves the playing their instruments constantly. Zuiho Daiko has toured all over Japan, with over 100 performances a year. Its more recent performances have extended to international venues, including playing on stage at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., and at an event at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
In October 2017, the group had the honor of being invited to participate in the Arts Festival for the Disabled, which was held in Nantes, France. Their performance at La Cité des Congrès de Nantes, one of the largest performance venues in France, was an enormous success that was hailed by both critics and the media alike. The audience praised the drummers not only for having overcome their disabilities but also because their performance had far exceeded expectations. Indeed, listeners were deeply moved by the group’s pure musicianship and artistry. The audience ovation was for Japanese drummers whose performance had truly embodied the meaning of “Inclusion.”
Global efforts to create a society where people with disabilities can live full and meaningful lives have been very much trial and error. In the 19th century, eugenics contributed to prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities, which continued well into the 20th century. Even in Northern Europe, which, after World War II, gave birth to the idea of normalizing life circumstances for those with disabilities, sequestration persisted for years. Until just a little over a decade ago, large institutionalized facilities were common around the world. In the last quarter century, that has changed, in significant measure due to the wisdom and actions of people with courage. Unfortunately, however, such facilities remain in many countries around the globe.
Today, the Zuiho Daiko drummers are welcomed by the local people and live as full members of the community. Until just a few decades ago, however, they were alienated from the community, with their very existence seen as a “troublesome presence” for society. Even people with disabilities were themselves forced to recognize that that is how they were widely perceived. For the Zuiho Daiko drummers, the journey to their present circumstance was long and arduous, with many hardships suffered along the way. Today, their hard work and strong will have at last freed them from societal prejudice and being labeled a “troublesome presence.”
The film introduces the stories of others, such as the French hip-hop group Artipique and the members of RambaZamba Theater in Berlin, both of whom have created their own avenues as professionals, just like the Zuiho Daiko drummers. The film also tells the story of a Swedish woman who strived to become a member of parliament so that she would be able to work toward establishing rights for persons with intellectual disabilities – people like her – to live as full members of the society free from stigmatization.
The documentary “Challenged” allows us to be an eye-witness to some inspiring activities of persons with intellectual disabilities. Through their efforts, as documented in the film, the hope is that we can develop and realize a vision of a more inclusive society.